35 Albums in 35 Years: 1980

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it.  Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


joydivisioncloser1980: Joy Division’s Closer

Oh, Joy Division.  What would I do without you?  Like most people, I discovered Ian Curtis and Joy Division during the dark days of high school.  Growing up in a small(ish) town, one finds new music through the limited means of older siblings, late night radio, various magazines, or MTV’s 120 Minutes back when I was a teenager.  In the case of Joy Division, it was Trent Reznor and the cover of “Dead Souls” recorded by Nine Inch Nails for the soundtrack to The Crow.  Much as Kurt Cobain was responsible for my introduction to bands like Flipper, The Vaselines, and Daniel Johnston, Reznor did likewise with groups like Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and the wonderful, atmospheric post punk that is Joy Division.

And I was sold instantly.

Well, not instantly.  The nasal, robotic caterwaul of the voice of Ian Curtis took me a short while to get used to.  It was jarring to me at first, a warbled, pleading echo of pain and turmoil that felt almost like some separate entity from the rest of the music.  And, oh that music.  At once simplistic and complex, the beats, rhythms, and melodies, of Stephen Morris, Peter Hook, and Bernard Sumner are transcendent.  They take you into the muck and bring you back again.  They make you depressed and then make you want to dance.  On its own, the music is perfect.  At times it’s primal and organic.  At others it’s cold and synthetic.  It sets the mood and tone instrumentally like few other bands ever have or will.

And then that shred of a voice chimes in, and it just breaks you.

Curtis’ vocals bleed.  They are pain and desperation.  Bleakness and delirium.  The man channeled all the emotion, all the energy, and all the power the band created and blasted it through his throat until there was nothing left but defeat.  After multiple listens, I just could not shake this music from myself.  Still can’t.

But let’s back up for a moment.  The first Joy Division album I bought was actually a compilation from the 90’s called Permanent: 1995, a decent assortment of tracks from the band’s all too short career.  I was hooked.  From there, I picked up 1979’s Unknown Pleasures (an album I almost chose for my last article) and 1980’s Closer.  Being the band’s only two studio albums, there are a lot of similarities between them, but the differences are what really set Closer apart for me.  There is an immediacy to Unknown Pleasures that’s absent from the sophomore follow-up, like the band just had to get this sound out of them before they exploded.  Closer on the other hand feels more solid, more nurtured.  It’s also the decidedly more “Gothic” sounding record of the two.  It seems icier, darker even.  There’s a certain amount of claustrophobia created by the production aesthetic that adds to this aura of gloom, like the whole album is a resignation of some doomed fate.  Like we’re already all dead and buried…which makes sense when you consider the album was released after Ian Curtis hung himself.

Every song on the record carries a certain amount of despair with it, from the cries and wails of “Twenty Four Hours” to the almost upbeat shake of “Isolation.”  A death haze hangs over the entirety of the proceedings.  Fittingly, the album ends with the funeral dirge sounds of “Decades.”

Since it’s release, a number of compilation and live albums of Joy Division’s work have been issued and reissued, each one a solid reminder of how much was lost to us back in 1980.  The band set one of the many bars for my musical tastes for the rest of my life.  And I will always love them for that.

On a quick side note, it wasn’t until I started learning about Joy Division back in high school that I realized New Order was the same band.  My mind was blown.

- Favorite song: “Twenty Four Hours”

- Runner up: “Decades”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Elvis Costello and The Attractions – Get Happy!; David Bowie – Scary Monsters.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

One Response to 35 Albums in 35 Years: 1980
  1. Shawn C Baker

    Shawn C Baker Reply

    As usual – awesome choice and awesome write-up. I love that your ability to describe the effect this band has on you breaks down a bit as you try to put it into language – I’ve always felt the same. I’ve been meaning to re-watch or, more practically perhaps, just plain purchase Control, that biopic. It is fantastic. You’ve just given me that final impetus to do so.

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